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The Community of Inquiry Framework Meets the SOLO Taxonomy: A Process-Product Model of Online Learning

Peter Shea, Mary Gozza-Cohen, Sedef Uzuner, Ruchi Mehta, Anna Valentinova Valtcheva, Suzanne Hayes, Jason Vickers University at Albany, State University of New York

Abstract: This paper presents both a conceptual and empirical investigation of teaching and learning in online courses. Employing both the Community of Inquiry Framework (CoI) and the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes Taxonomy (SOLO) two complete online courses were examined for the quality of both collaborative learning processes and learning outcomes. Responding to past criticism (e.g. Picciano, 2002; Rourke, 2009) of online education research, this study examines evidence beyond learner reported satisfaction and learning instead measuring both learning inputs and outcomes. Analysis of input includes quantitative content analysis of discussions using the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. Analysis of outcomes looks at both the quality of student learning artifacts such as case studies using the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy as well as instructor assigned grades of specific related assignments. Results suggest that understanding of online instructional effort, processes, and learning outcomes can be improved through this more comprehensive, conceptuallydriven approach.

Objectives Online education is undergoing rapid growth and acceptance at the college level in the United States and now represents a significant proportion of all learning for undergraduate students. It is estimated that there are more than 4 million students studying in online environments in US higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2009). These estimates further suggest that more than one in four college students in the United States are enrolled in at least one online course. Additionally, recent meta-analytic and traditional reviews of research indicate that the learning outcomes for online students are

equivalent (Abrami, Lou, Borokhovski, Wade, Wozney, Wallet, et. al, 2004; Allen, Bourhis, Burrell, & Mabry, 2002; Cavanaugh, Gillan, Kromey, Hess, & Blomeyer, 2004; Tallent-Runnels, Thomas, Lan, Cooper, Ahern, Shaw, et. al., 2006; Zhao, Lei, Yan, Lai, & Tan, 2005) or superior to (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia & Jones, 2009) those of classroom students. However, a lack of conceptual understanding exists with regard to the circumstances under which online education promotes good learning outcomes. This paper seeks to empirically investigate such conditions. Theoretical Framework After more than a decade of work, the Community of Inquiry Framework (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 1999) has become one of the leading models guiding research and practice in much of US online higher education (see e.g. Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Arbaugh, 2007; Garrison, 2007; Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2010; Meyer, 2003; Richardson & Swan 2003; Schrire, 2004; Shea & Bidjerano, 2009; Shea, Li, Swan & Pickett, 2005; Swan, 2003; Swan & Shih, 2005; Swan & Ice, 2010). The initial article outlining the framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 1999) has generated more seven hundred and fifty references in other scholarly publications since it was written. Reflecting a socio-cognitive view of learning (Dewey, 1933; Lipmann, 2003, Pierce, 1955) the model proposes theoretical elements requisite for successful knowledge construction in collaborative online environments. The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework conceptualizes online knowledge building as a result of collaborative work among members in learning communities characterized by instructional orchestration appropriate to the online environments (teaching presence) and a supportive and collaborative online setting

(social presence). The teaching presence construct outlines task sets, for example organization, design, discourse facilitation, and direct instruction (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001) and articulates the specific behaviors likely to result in a productive community of inquiry (e.g. Shea, Li, Swan, Pickett, 2005). Social presence highlights online discourse that promotes positive affect, interaction, and cohesion (Rourke, Anderson,Garrison, & Archer, 2001) likely to result in a functioning community of inquiry. The model also references cognitive presence, a multivariate measure of significant learning that results from the cyclical process of practical inquiry (Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 2001) within such a community of learners. Past factor analytic research has concluded that the model represents a coherent conceptual structure (Arbaugh, 2007; Ice, Arbaugh, Diaz, Garrison, Richardson, et. al., 2007; Shea & Bidjerano, 2008) components of which correlates with student satisfaction and learning (Shea, Li, Swan, & Pickett, 2005; Swan & Shih, 2005). Hypothesized relationships within this conceptual structure have also been analyzed. For example Shea and Bidjerano (2008) developed a structural equation model with more than 5000 online learners confirming that variance in student judgments of their own cognitive presence can be modeled from their ratings of instructor teaching presence mediated by their assessment of social presence in their online courses. Limitations of past research practices on the model We note that research in this area has grown out of inquiry into computer conferencing and has thus focused heavily on examination of threaded discussions within courses (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Garrison, et al., 2000; Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001; Rourke & Anderson, 2002; Rourke, Anderson,

Garrison & Archer, 1999; Rourke, Anderson, Garrison & Archer, 2001). We believe that the research and indeed the CoI model itself are limited in light of these methods. We propose that progress can be made in the development of the framework by extending research into other areas of online courses including communicative processes outside of discussions and through analysis of learning artifacts directly related to discussions. Additionally we propose that while the CoI framework is appropriate for evaluating the quality of online interaction it was not designed to assess learning outcomes. Previous researchers have noted this and several have proposed the use of the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy as a complementary tool (Holmes, 2005; Kimber, Pillay & Richards, 2007; Schire, 2004; Slack, Beer, Armitt & Green, 2003). Using the taxonomy, student responses can be categorized according to complexity. Responses can be classified as prestructural, unistructural, multistructural, relational or extended abstract (Biggs & Collis, 1982). We therefore chose to use the SOLO taxonomy in this study to evaluate learning outcomes as reflected in student assignments related to online discussions. Missing from past research is an investigation that documents hypothesized relationships between the CoI presence indicators reflected in student course work. The guiding hypothesis here is that significant learning outcomes should be strongly correlated with the quality of sustained learning processes reflected in the CoI framework. To address this gap we chose to examine two courses that differed with regard to teaching presence, hypothesizing that we should therefore find evidence of differences in social and cognitive presence as well as differences in the quality of learning artifacts reflected by assessment on the SOLO taxonomy.

Methods The current study inquires into both learning inputs/processes as well as learning outcomes. We conceptualize inputs in terms of presence indicators reflected in the CoI model (Anderson, et. al 2001; Garrison et. al. 2001; Rourke, et. al, 1999) developed through content analysis of transcripts in multiple online settings. Minor modifications to these indicators were included as documented in Shea, Hayes, & Vickers (2009). Coding was conducted in stages. First, online learning processes, then online learning outcomes were coded. In the initial stage at least two researchers coded all communicative processes in the two target courses for instances of teaching, social, and cognitive presence. This initially included all threaded discussions followed by course emails, question areas, and private folders. Initial inter-rater reliability metrics were established for each of these. Following suggestions from Garrison et. al. (2006) coders also met to check on coding disagreements. These resulted in better inter-rater reliability measures as coding errors and process differences were discovered. Similar procedures were followed for coding learning outcomes using the SOLO Taxonomy. Sample initial and negotiated inter-rater reliability metrics are included in appendix B. Researchers analyzed instances of teaching presence within and external to threaded discussion specific to course topics. Additionally, correlations between the quality of threaded discussions and the quality of related learning artifacts were conducted. Finally an examination of instructor assessments of student performance reflected in assignment, discussion, and course levels grades was completed. Instructor assessments were then compared to cognitive presence levels and SOLO scores. Data Sources

This research is based on a year-long examination of two fully online courses, one of which initially appeared to reflect a lower level of teaching presence in discussions, and thus seemed a good comparison for the second course that evidenced higher levels. The data thus includes all content in two upper level courses in Business Management offered by a state college in the northeastern United States that specializes in distance and adult education. Each course section was identical, designed by content experts and instructional designers, and taught by experienced instructors who were not the course designers. The course has five modules of instruction and contains a variety of learning activities including discussions, and individual and group assignments. The following data sources were used for this study: five two-week long discussion forums, course announcements, private folders for one-to-one student/instructor communication, general question sections, instructor e-mail, and 114 student case studies from three of the modules. All were coded by at least two researchers. To perform the analysis of learning outcomes several factors had to be considered. The CoI model assumes a collaborative learning pedagogy in which outcomes are related to processes. For significant learning to occur there should be a correspondence between the content of the collaboration typically conducted through asynchronous threaded communication - and the kinds of learning that are assessed in our case individual learning as evidenced in students analysis of case studies. For the SOLO analysis the researchers agreed that instructional design of Module three of the course represented the best match between the topic of threaded discussion and the requirements of the case study assignment. Therefore Module three is the focus of

analysis looking for correlations between CoI processes and meaningful learning outcomes in this study. Research Questions: 1) What levels of teaching presence occur within and outside of the main threaded discussion areas? 2) What levels of social and cognitive presence occurs within threaded discussions? 3) What levels of cognitive complexity using the SOLO taxonomy are evident in sample student learning artifacts (case studies) related to threaded discussion? 4) How do SOLO scores compare to instructor evaluations of student performance? 5) Can CoI and SOLO metrics be used to predict instructor assessments of student learning?

Results Tables 1 and 2 below shows total forms of teaching presence located both inside and outside of the threaded course discussions. As can be seen instructor teaching presence levels evidenced within course discussions presents and incomplete picture of total instructor teaching presence. The majority of teaching presence, a measure of productive instructional effort in the Community of Inquiry framework, occurs external to threaded discussion. Table 1. Instructor A Teaching Presence (TP) within and outside of threaded discussion Instructor A Discussion In % Outside DE 0 0.00% 96 FD 12 100.00% 0 DI 11 78.57% 3 AS 3 7.50% 37 NC 26 20.47% 101 All TP* 26 16.05% 136 8

% 100.00% 0.00% Total 96 12 *NC is not included in "All TP" column

21.43% 14

92.50% 40

79.53% 127

83.95% 162

Table 2. Instructor B teaching presence (TP) within and outside of threaded discussion Instructor B Discussion DE FD DI AS NC All TP* In 5 6 2 3 16 16 % 11.63% 66.67% 25.00% 2.75% 11.85% 9.47% Outside 38 3 6 106 119 153 % 88.37% 33.33% 75.00% 97.25% 88.15% 90.53% Total 43 9 8 109 135 169 *NC is not included in "All TP" column DE = Instructional Design; FD = Facilitation of Discourse; DI = Direct Instruction; AS = Assessment; NC = No Code

Social presence scores are listed in table 3 below. This data indicates that course A had 219 more instances of social presence than course B. Course A contained more indicators of affective forms of social presence and somewhat fewer instances of open communication.

Table 3. Distribution of SP indicators Course A Total Affective Open Communication Group Cohesion Total 264 403 203 870 % 30.35 46.32 23.33 100 Course B Total 174 345 132 651 % 26.73 53.00 20.28 100

Cognitive presence scores are included in Table 4 indicating that the majority of instances of cognitive presence in these courses were at the exploration stage. While an

initial view of instructor teaching presence within the discussions might predict higher cognitive presence levels for instructor A, who was more active within discussions we note that students in instructor Bs course demonstrated more instances of the higher phases of integration and resolution. Table 4. Distribution of CP indicators Course A Total Triggering Event Exploration Integration Resolution No code Total 38 324 89 0 76 527 % 7.21 61.48 16.89 0.00 14.42 100 Course B Total 39 294 109 2 41 485 % 8.04 60.62 22.47 0.41 8.45 100

Cognitive Presence as a Function of Teaching and Social Presence Previous research (Shea & Bidjerano, 2008) employing structural equation modeling indicated that online student ratings of their own cognitive presence can be accounted for by their assessments of the quality of teaching and social presence in their courses. To further test the nature of these relationships we conducted a regression analysis of cognitive presence scores for the discussion in the third module of the course. The research team purposely selected this module for this and subsequent analysis because of the close association between the topic of the discussion and the case study assignment in the module. As can be seen, a majority of the variance in cognitive presence scores can be predicted based on scores for teaching and social presence frequency.


Table 5. Correlation Matrix Module 3 Discussion CP Weighted Total Pearson Correlation Module 3 Discussion CP Weighted Total Module 3 Teacher Presence - Frequency Module 3 Social Presence - Frequency Module 3 Discussion CP Weighted Total Module 3 Teacher Presence - Frequency Module 3 Social Presence - Frequency 1.000 .664 .646 . .000 .000 Module 3 Module 3 Teacher Social Presence - Presence Frequenc Frequenc y y .664 1.000 .508 .000 . .002 .646 .508 1.000 .000 .002 .

Sig. (1-tailed)

b Dependent Variable: Module 3 discussion CP weighted total Table 6. Model Summary Std. Adjusted Error of R R the Model R Square Square Estimate Change Statistics R R Square F Sig. F Square F Change Change df1 df2 Change Change Change df1 1 .755(a) .569 .540 5.466 .569 19.168 2 29 a Predictors: (Constant), Module 3 Social Presence - Frequency, Module 3 Teacher Presence - Frequency

df2 .000

ANOVA(b) Table 7. Significance Test Mode Sum of df Mean F Sig.


l 1 Regression

Squares 1145.4 05 Residual 866.47 0 Total 2011.8 75 2

Square 572.703 19.168 .000(a)




a Predictors: (Constant), Module 3 Social Presence - Frequency, Module 3 Teacher Presence - Frequency b Dependent Variable: Module 3 Discussion CP Weighted Total Comparison of Instructor Evaluations and CoI and SOLO Scores As can be seen in the following regression analyses of student case study grades for module three, SOLO scores employed in combination with CoI metrics account for a significant proportion of the variance in instructor assessments of students performance. From the correlation matrix below (table 8), teaching presence is significantly correlated with social presence (r = .593, p < .05) and cognitive presence (r = .630, p < .01), but neither of those are significantly correlated with SOLO analysis. Table 9 present grades for the case study assignment in module three as well as average frequencies of social presence and teaching presence in that module. Also presented in table 9 are average SOLO scores for the case studies in module 3. Table 10 indicates that teaching presence, cognitive presence, and SOLO codes are significantly correlated with student performance on the case study assignment (r = .549, p < .05; and r = .432, p < .05 respectively). When the SOLO codes were used as a single predictor for module performance, R2 was only .187, but when teacher presence and social presence were added to the model, R2 increased to .521, indicating that the latter model explained over 50% of the variance in student performance. When all 12

predictors (SOLO coding, social presence, teacher presence and cognitive presence) are included CoI and SOLO combine to yield a more powerful model accounting for the majority of variance in instructor assessment of students performance as indicated by their case study grades.

Table 8. Correlation matrix Module 3 Case Study Grade Module 3 Case Study Grade Module 3 Social Presence Module 3 Teacher Presence
Module 3 Cognitive Presence

Module 3 Social Presence

Module 3 Teacher Presence

Module 3 Cognitive Presence

Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis

1.000 .409 .549*


1.000 .593**

.630** 1.000

Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis * p < .05. ** p < .01.






Table 9. Descriptive statistics for case study grades, social presence, teaching presence and SOLO

Module 3 Case Study Grade 17 Module 3 Social Presence 6.82 5.548 17 Frequency b Module 3 Teacher Presence 2.76 2.078 17 Frequency c Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis d 1.971 .9597 17 a. Case study grade range 0-100; b. average SP frequency for module 3; c. average TP frequency for module 3; d. average SOLO score for Module 3 case studies range 1-5. Table 10. Correlations

Mean 87.65

Std. Deviation 6.224


Module 3 Module 3 Social Teacher Module 3 Presence - Presence Case Study Frequenc Frequenc Grade y y Pearson Correlation Module 3 Case Study Grade Module 3 Social Presence Frequency Module 3 Teacher Presence Frequency Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis Module 3 Case Study Grade Module 3 Social Presence Frequency Module 3 Teacher Presence Frequency Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis 1.000 .409 .409 1.000 .549 .593

Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis .432 -.218

.549 .432 . .052

.593 -.218 .052 .

1.000 .059 .011 .006

.059 1.000 .042 .200

Sig. (1-tailed)

.011 .042

.006 .200

. .411

.411 .

Table 11. Model Summary Std. Error Mode Adjusted of the l R R Square R Square Estimate 1 .722(a) .521 .410 4.781 a Predictors: (Constant), Module 3 Case SOLO Analysis, Module 3 Teacher Presence Frequency, Module 3 Social Presence - Frequency Table 12. ANOVA(b) Mode Sum of Mean l Squares df Square F Sig. 1 Regressio 322.725 3 107.575 4.706 .020(a) n Residual 297.158 13 22.858 Total 619.882 16 a Predictors: (Constant), Module 3 case study SOLO analysis, module 3 teacher presence -frequency, module 3 social presence frequency 14

b Dependent Variable: Module 3 case study grade

Discussion Our analysis indicated that overall teaching presence in the two courses was roughly equivalent but that the majority of instructor teaching presence occurs outside of threaded discussions that are the traditional object of research on the CoI framework. We believe that this fuller account of instructor teaching presence is often missing from research in this area. Particularly striking are results for instructor feedback provided through assessments of student work which account for the bulk of teaching presence in general and the majority of instructor effort conducted outside of threaded discussion. These results may help explain why, despite the near absence of one of the instructors from the online threaded discussions, cognitive presence scores for the two courses were quite similar. We suggest that future research inquiring into this concept also focus on communicative processes external to the main discussion area and examine other course documents such as instructions and the orientation and syllabus sections of online courses to develop a more complete picture of online instructional roles. Results presented here confirm, at the individual course level, previous research describing the nature of the relationship of the various forms of presence in the CoI framework. Coding for cognitive presence conducted in this study results in scores against which predictions can be made through regression analysis. Using frequency measures of teaching presence and social presence as predictors of cognitive presence resulted in a significant regression model which replicates previous research (Shea & Bidjerano, 2009) that utilized learner assessments of the quality of their own cognitive presence. These results are significant in that they lend additional support to the validity


of the model but employ more direct measures of learning processes reflected by cognitive presence indicators residing in learning artifacts. Additional research investigating the relationships between the presences is recommended. Also warranting comment is the correlation of student grades as dependent measures with CoI and SOLO scores and predictors. This study demonstrates that instructor assigned outcome measures (grades) on specific college-level online learning tasks such as a case study analysis can be predicted through collaborative learning processes reflected in CoI and SOLO constructs. Notable also were distinctions in correlations between instructor grades and SOLO scores in isolation versus SOLO in combination with CoI metrics. Results presented here suggest that the two models (CoI and SOLO) may have complimentary attributes in that they can be employed together to account for variance in student outcomes scores assigned by course instructors. Additional research combining CoI and SOLO metrics is thus also recommended. Limitations - These results also appear to replicate previous studies that utilized quantitative content analysis with the CoI framework. For example in previous research (Fahy, 2005; Garrison, Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Kanuka, Rourke, & Laflamme, 2007; McClin,, 2002; Meyer, 2003; Rourke & Kanuka, 2009; Stein, Wanstreet, Engle, et. al, 2006; Vaughn & Garrison, 2006) students in online courses failed to consistently achieve higher stages of cognitive presence, i.e. integration, application and resolution, but instead appear to halt at lower levels reflecting introduction to, and surface exploration of, course topics and issues. Similar, though less consistent results were reported with regard to the SOLO taxonomy (Holmes, 2005; Rourke & Kanuka, 2009). At least two alternative conclusions can be inferred. The first


is that students, who are rated highly by instructors, receive excellent grades on assignments, and score a grade of A for their performance in the course are not learning. The second is that a distinction exists between outcomes valued by online instructors and outcomes deemed desirable by researchers employing the CoI Framework and SOLO taxonomy. Some students in the present study clearly achieved objectives considered essential by the course instructor as demonstrated in the assignment grades and final grades. The distribution of instructor grades also indicates that some students did not. However, it seems clear that the higher stages within the critical inquiry process reflected in the CoI framework is not a priority for all courses, and that successful learner acquisition of discipline specific content sometimes excludes the kinds of significant learning ideally described by the CoI and SOLO models. That students in both courses did not score highly on either the cognitive presence coding or the SOLO taxonomy opens the question about similar outcomes in previous research. While not reported it seems unlikely that online students in the various studies documenting relatively low levels of cognitive presence (and the shorter list documenting mixed results on the SOLO taxonomy) actually failed their classes. We therefore suggest that results to date may not represent a failure of meaningful learning but rather differences in cultures of measurement between researchers and teachers. Again, it may be that CoI and SOLO metrics are not applicable to all outcomes across higher education. Evidence for this is indicated by results reported by Schrire (2004) who found consistently higher levels on SOLO scores among doctoral students as opposed to low score for undergraduates students reported here, in Holmes (2005) and in Rourke and


Kanuka (2009). Additional research documenting the correlation between SOLO, cognitive presence and instructor assessments of learning is recommended.

Acknowledgement This work was supported in part by the SUNY Learning Network, Office of the Provost, State University of New York.



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Appendices Table 13. Cognitive Presence initial and negotiated inter-rater reliability measures: Holstis Coefficient of Reliability Initial and Negotiated Inter-rater Reliability using Holstis Coefficient of Reliability Course A (KS) Initial CR Module 1 Module 2 Module 3 Module 4 Module 5 0.74 a 0.68 b 0.75 a 0.67 b 0.82 a Negotiated CR 0.99 a 0.97 b 0.98 a 0.99 b 1.00 a Course B (JY) Initial CR 0.77 b 0.80 a 0.84 b 0.69 a 0.48 b Negotiated CR 0.98 b 0.99 a 0.99 b 0.95 a 1.00 b

a: Coding Pair A b: Coding Pair B